YOU’RE THE BEST AROUND (OF THE LAST 17 YEARS…)

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With VCU’s decision to bolt the Colonial Athletic Association still fresh in our minds, maybe now is a good time to take stock of the 17 years the Rams spent in the league. It was a good run and frankly, the CAA’s Virginia-centric appeal was one of the things that made it fun for VCU fans. I can honestly say it’s one of the things I’ll miss, times change.

VCU has won 42 CAA championships since joining the league for the 1994-95 season. The Rams’ 36 titles in men’s sports are the most in league history. The VCU Baseball team will have a chance to add to that mark later this month. The Rams have won 13 championships in men’s tennis, eight in golf and five each in men’s basketball and baseball. Other sports were not as fortunate, but still enjoyed a great deal of success. Here, I’m going to look at the best team from each VCU program of the CAA era.

BASEBALL: 2003 (46-13, 17-3 CAA, CAA Champions, 1-2 NCAAs)
This was a legitimately hard decision. You could make compelling arguments for the 1998 and 2001 teams. This is one of the few picks that required some back-and-forth debate.

But for me, the 2003 squad was a shade better. Not only did they dominate the CAA regular season and sweep the conference tournament, but the Rams also led the country in ERA that season (2.54). Four pitchers, Cla Meredth (6th), Justin Orenduff (1st), Sean Marshall 6th) and Brian Marshall (5th), were selected in the first six rounds of the MLB Draft.  Four other players were also eventually drafted. Sean Marshall and Cla Meredith played in the majors.

MEN’S BASKETBALL: 2010-11 (28-12, 12-6 CAA, NCAA Final Four)
While I’m picking a non-CAA champion here, I doubt I’ll get few arguments. VCU’s run to the Final Four in 2011 pretty much trumps everything. During the regular season the Rams were equally magnificent and maddening, but flipped a switch in March. VCU reached the CAA Championship Game, upsetting ranked and heavily-favored George Mason in the process. Despite losing to Old Dominion in the title bout, VCU received an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament, where the Rams toppled USC, Georgetown, Purdue, Florida State and Kansas on the way to history.

WOMEN’S BASKETBALL: 2008-09 (26-7, 15-3 CAA, NCAA First Round)
The Rams didn’t win the CAA crown this season (Drexel did), but behind eventual WNBA first round pick Quanitra Hollingsworth, the Rams earned a trip to the NCAA Tournament for the first time via an at-large berth. The Rams met Rutgers in the first round and gave the Scarlet Knights a run for their money. In addition to Hollingsworth, future All-American and WNBA Draftee Courtney Hurt was a freshman on this squad.

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HURT OPTS FOR EFFORT OVER EASE, RUNS TO VCU SCORING MARK

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Senior Courtney Hurt set VCU's career scoring mark Thursday. She has 1,755 points.

RICHMOND, Va. – Courtney Hurt had been so good at basketball her whole life, she really had no idea what playing at the Division I level would be like. Her freshman year can euphemistically be called an education.

“When I first got here, to be honest, I didn’t think college basketball was going to be that hard, that much different than high school,” the VCU senior forward said. “My senior year [I averaged] 28 and 12. I thought I could just come in and perform. But I had to take a step back and coach pushed me really hard. It was the card I was dealt, and she got her point across after about 100 suicides.”

Thursday, Hurt, long since removed from the country club work ethic of her freshman year, became VCU’s career scoring leader with a free throw at the 10:03 mark of the second half of the Rams’ 47-41 loss to Drexel at the Verizon Wireless Arena. Hurt, who has 1,755 career points, broke Kelly Hoover’s 23-year old record of 1,750.

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HOOVER PREPARED TO PASS TORCH TO HURT

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Kelly Hoover averaged 15.4 points, 4.6 rebounds and 3.8 assist per game during her VCU career from 1985-89.

RICHMOND, Va. – Kelly Hoover’s tenure atop the VCU career points list is all but over, but she’s enjoyed the ride.

Hoover has held the Rams’ scoring mark for 23 years. She piled up 1,750 points for VCU from 1985-89 and passed Becky Crow during her senior season to become VCU’s all-time leader. Chances are good that she’ll pass to torch to current Ram Courtney Hurt Thursday when VCU hosts Drexel at the Verizon Wireless Arena at 7 p.m. Hurt, who is averaging 23 points per game, needs just five to make the record hers.

While she’s proud of the record, Hoover, who also ranks second in school history with 431 assists and seventh in career steals, has no problems surrendering the throne.

“My family is a little sad, but I think it’s exciting, for her, the team, for her family,” Hoover said

A native of Staunton, Va., Hoover has resided in Richmond since graduating in 1989 with a degree in criminal justice. She worked for UPS for 17 years before leaving three years ago to start her own landscaping business, Premier Lawn Care. She says she also dabbles in real estate.

Owning her own business has kept her busy and away from the Siegel Center in recent years, but Hoover says she plans on being in the arena Thursday to watch Hurt break the record.

Hoover played her games at Franklin Street Gym, but today her No. 20 jersey hangs from the Siegel Center rafters. It was retired three years ago, a moment she holds dear.

“It was pretty exciting,” she said. “It was one of those wow moments that you’ll never forget. It’s nice to be recognized. I’m very honored. Any time I walk in there I look up and think, ‘Wow, it’s really up there.’”

In addition to Hoover’s scoring mark, the 6-foot-1 forward is closing in on the Rams’ record for career rebounds. A retired jersey is likely in Hurt’s future as well, where it would hang alongside Hoover’s. It would be nice to have company, Hoover says.

“I can’t complain. Hopefully she’ll get her jersey retired down the road. Records are meant to be broken.”

HURT CLOSING ON VCU SCORING RECORD

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Courtney Hurt needs 22 points to become VCU's career scoring leader.

When Courtney Hurt was a freshman, VCU Coach Beth Cunningham made it clear that rebounding would earn her more playing time. Four years later, rebounding may have been what got Hurt on the floor, but it’s scoring that has made her unforgettable.

Hurt needs 22 point to pass Kelly Hoover to become the Rams’ career scoring leader. She’ll get a chance on Sunday, Jan. 22 at George Mason at 2 p.m. at the Patriot Center in Fairfax, Va. If she doesn’t reach the mark Sunday, she’ll get another crack on Thursday, Jan. 26 when the Rams host Drexel at the Verizon Wireless Arena.

Through 17 games, Hurt is enjoying another spectacular season. The Conyers, Ga. native is averaging 23.2 points and a Colonial Athletic Association-best 12.6 rebounds per game. If she continues at her current pace, she could surpass 2,000 career points. No Ram, man or woman, has reached 2,000 points since the RPI-MCV merger formed VCU in 1968.

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DEFENSIVE DECISION SPARKS VCU PAST ODU

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VCU limited Old Dominion to 35 percent shooting in the second half and overtime of Wednesday's win.

RICHMOND, Va. – I suppose there’s truth in the idea that defense and rebounding are decisions, that they’re more about effort and “want to” than about actual talent. But you can’t tell me that Rosie O’Donnell can guard Candice Parker. I don’t care how hard she tries.

However, it’s true that desire can get you a defensive stop much more often than it can produce a 3-pointer or an exceptional individual offensive play.

VCU has plenty of athleticism and ability, but in the first half of their 76-72 overtime victory over rival Old Dominion, the Rams watched the Lady Monarchs shoot 55 percent.

The Rams (10-5, 3-1 CAA) were slow to get back defensively in transition, and ODU burned them to the tune of an 11-2 advantage in fast break points. When the Lady Monarchs (5-11, 2-2 CAA) weren’t bleeding VCU on the break, they were pounding the ball inside, scoring 24 points in the paint in the first half on the way to a 45-36 lead. Something was missing.

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MCCRAE EMERGING FOR VCU

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One positive development from Thursday’s disappointing 78-77 loss to Richmond was the play of freshman center Aprill McRae.

McRae scored a season-high 13 points and collected 7 rebounds on the night in 34 minutes. She came into the night averaging 2.4 points per game. Making her second consecutive start, the 6-foot-3 Raleigh, N.C. native has active and physical. Four of her rebounds came on the offensive glass.

“She’s going to be very good,” said Richmond Coach Michael Shafer. “I wish she was a senior.”

Unfortunately for Shafer, McRae is a college rookie and just scratching the surface of her potential. Ranked the No. 22 post player in the nation by ESPN Hoopgurlz, McRae is arguably the most heavily recruited player VCU Coach Beth Cunningham has signed during her tenure.

Thursday, McRae showed what the hype was all about. With 11:11 remaining, senior Courtney Hurt, VCU’s leading scorer and rebounder, went to the bench with her fourth foul. At the time, the Rams trailed 59-57. Over the next seven minutes, McRae combined with sophomore Robyn Parks and senior Andrea Barbour to spark a 16-6 VCU run.

During one sequence, McRae scored five straight Rams’ points, including a play that saw her block a shot and then run the length of the floor in time to score on a feed from Park.

“She’s really come in as a freshman and really made an impact for us with her presence in the paint,” Cunningham said. “One of the biggest things is that she’s just come in with a great attitude. Obviously with her size, just how hard she works, it’s put her in a position where she’s able to get some good results for us.”

While her offensive game is far from a finished product, her size and athleticism allowed McRae to be a factor on the defensive side of the floor. There were signs of growth Thursday, however. McRae entered the game shooting 29 percent (5-of-18) from the floor, but hit 6-of-8 field goals.

NOTABLE NUMBERS
VCU has now lost four straight games to Richmond… The Rams are 3-0 on the road, but 0-3 at the Verizon Wireless Arena at the Siegel Center this season. VCU was 48-10 at home the last four years, prior to their recent losing streak… VCU grabbed 21 offensive rebounds Thursday, 11 more than Richmond, but had just a 17-13 edge in second chance points… VCU handed out a season-high 21 assists. Senior Jennifer Lane and Barbour distributed six each… Thursday’s game featured 10 ties and 17 lead changes.

2011-12 VCU WOMEN’S BASKETBALL PREVIEW

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All-American Courtney Hurt led the nation in rebounding (12.4 rpg) and double-doubles (25) last season. She also ranked second nationally in scoring (23.2 ppg)

When Beth Cunningham took over as head coach in 2003, there was exactly one postseason banner hanging inside the Verizon Wireless Arena for the women’s basketball program.

If that wasn’t bad enough by itself, that lonely piece of fabric was old enough that the tournament it was intended to celebrate, the National Women’s Invitation Tournament, had changed its name since the Rams’ 1995 appearance.

Now there are five banners, including a giant gold and white one from VCU’s 2009 NCAA Tournament appearance. In Cunningham’s eight seasons at the helm, the Rams have rewritten VCU Women’s Basketball history. VCU has reached the postseason in four consecutive seasons. The Rams are working on a school-record streak of five straight winning seasons. Three of the program’s four 20-win campaigns have come under her watch. The school’s all-time leader in victories with 148, Cunningham has coached two WNBA draft picks and an All-American.

At this point, when she takes inventory of the program, Cunningham doesn’t have to ask what the Rams have done, it’s what they still need to do. When she looks up into that northwest corner of the arena, she knows the answer. The Rams are still chasing their elusive first conference championship, Colonial Athletic Association or otherwise. VCU reached the championship game in 2008, another first for the program, but fell to Old Dominion.

“It’s something that you’d like to have already done, hang a championship banner, but there’s been so many good things that have happened with our program…it’s part of the building process,” Cunningham, 148-100 in eight seasons, said.

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THURSDAY LINKS

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If I have to watch or read one more Penn State-related piece of news, I’m going to punt a shetland pony. You shouldn’t either. We reached the media saturation point days ago. Instead, read this stuff:

The Richmond Times-Dispatch has a number of items today. First, some VCU Basketball Notes. There are also two more items on Tim Pearrell’s blog. Lots of good stuff there. Just bookmark that link, because the RTD website is about as easy to navigate as an 18-wheeler.

The Commonweath Times has doubled up today. First, Jim Swing says the men’s basketball team will reload, not rebuild. Meanwhile, Adam Stern has decided to delve into VCU’s two distinct (one awesome, one sleepy) student sections.

ESPN.com does occassionally cover women’s basketball, we swear! They heaped some high praise on Courtney Hurt, and for good reason.

It’s said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Guess that means UMass loves some VCU Basketball.

 

LET’S DO THE MATH

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Shaka Smart has indicated Brad Burgess will see an increased role on offense this season.

Following VCU’s open practice Sunday, I asked Bradford Burgess what he’d like his legacy to be, considering he’s within striking distance of a number of records that would solidify his standing as one of the best players in school history.

“Everybody wants to be known as a winner,” Burgess replied. “I just want to be known as a winner and that I did it in the best possible way all four years, that I represented the university to the best of my abilities.”

Meanwhile, women’s hoops star Courtney Hurt is coming off the best individual season in Rams’ history (this is not up for discussion), but she’s already talked about how badly she wants to win a CAA title. VCU has never won a conference championship in women’s basketball, and they’re expected to be a contender for the CAA crown this season.

Both are fantastic players with their priorities in the right place. But we, as fans, love to crunch the numbers. We love to see them chase history. It helps us to rank and categorize their standing among our past heroes. With that in mind, let’s do some math.

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BETH SPEAKS

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I had a nice chat with Beth Cunningham at CAA Media Day Tuesday. Behold, the fruit of that labor. The Rams are picked second in the CAA Preseason Poll and are returning an All-American. Safe to say that expectations are high.

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